May 1, 2009

Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow

Ernst Borinski teaching at Tougaloo College, MS, CA 1960.
(Photo courtesy Tougaloo College Archives and The Mississippi Department of Archives and History)
Last night, we opened our latest special exhibition, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. It was a very warm event with former students, and the families of professors, from the colleges represented in the exhibition in attendance. The exhibition examines the relationships that were forged between Jewish refugee professors from Germany and Austria and their students at the historically black colleges in the south, where they taught.
Here are some excerpts from my welcoming remarks:
I welcome you warmly to the Museum this evening and to the opening of this extraordinary exhibition, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. I have said before that exhibitions are a museum’s unique contribution to the cultural life of this city, and so it is always exciting for me to welcome our supporters and colleagues to an opening. Exhibitions are what museums do that no other institutions do, and we are justly proud this evening of what we offer you.

It is not often in this Museum that we can open an exhibition that tells a happy and uplifting story. To be sure, the context of the story of this exhibition is anything but happy, but the story, itself, is both positive and inspirational. It is the story of teaching and learning and their life-changing power. It is the story of exile and empathy, of the common experience of discrimination shared by students and their teachers, and of the uncommon bond that was forged between them.

Of course, when we first started work on this exhibition several years ago, no one could have predicted that it would open on the 101st day of the first term of the first African-American president of the United States. Surely our country has advanced in some far-reaching ways since the time period of this exhibition. I am certain that I am not alone in attributing that progress at least in some small way to the values that animated the remarkable relationships that are the focus of the exhibition that we open this evening.

Dr. Joyce Ladner, former President of Howard University and graduate of Tougaloo College, in the Exhibition.
(photo by Melanie Einzig)

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